Gladiators Snake-Bitten by Rattlers in ArenaBowl XXVII
It was supposed to be the culmination of one of the greatest seasons ever by an Arena Football team. A win at home in ArenaBowl XXVII would have brought the city of Cleveland its first pro sports championship since the Cleveland Browns won the NFL title in 1964. But someone forgot to tell the Arizona Rattlers that their role in the game was to be that of the gracious loser.
Instead, Arizona took an early 14-0 lead in the game and never looked back, leaving town with their third consecutive AFL championship after a 72-32 shellacking of the hometown Gladiators Saturday night. The dominating performance by the Rattlers showed why they have appeared in the ArenaBowl four straight years and now have three titles to show for it.
When asked how he has been able to put together winning teams the past four years, Rattlers coach Kevin Guy had this to say after the game, “Our staff does a great job of evaluating talent. We’re not really big on going out and getting free agents from other teams. We want guys to come in and learn our brand of Arena Football. As we move forward as an organization I think we’re going to continue to bring in young guys and teach them our way of doing things.”
Cleveland head coach Steve Thonn was as mystified as the rest of the 18,410 fans in attendance who witnessed the game when trying to explain the collapse of his team. “We just didn’t play well,” Thonn said after the game. “It was a little bit of everything and it’s disappointing that we didn’t come out and give it our best game tonight.”
Cleveland’s trademark all season long was in keeping games close, giving them the opportunity to win at the end. Six times, the Gladiators came from behind to win on the final play of the game.
Along the way, the Gladiators did show that they could put up some serious points and play good defense, too. Like when they manhandled the Iowa Barnstormers 86-49 on June 7 or when they dismissed the Jacksonville Sharks 62-20 on July 19.
But all that didn’t matter in the title game against Arizona. The Rattlers scored 30 points in the second quarter and led 44-13 at halftime. Cleveland quarterback Shane Austin threw three interceptions in the first half, two of them to Arizona defensive back Jeremy Kellem. The uncharacteristic play of the Gladiators was the result of dropped passes, overthrown balls and blown coverages.
Cleveland was never able to recover from the second quarter scoring onslaught by Arizona and the hometown fans finally had to come to the realization that a victory was just not in the cards
For Arizona, quarterback Nick Davila completed 19 of 24 passes for 237 yards. He threw eight touchdowns and had one interception. He was named the game’s MVP as well as Offensive Player of the Game. The leading receivers for Arizona were Tysson Poots, who caught nine passes for 93 yards and two touchdowns, and Rod Windsor, who caught seven passes for 123 yards and three touchdowns. Kerry Reed, who plays wide receiver as well as defensive back, caught three passes for 20 yards and two touchdowns. He also had two interception in the game, one was returned for a touchdown. Reed was named Playmaker of the Game and his interception return for a touchdown was the AFL Highlight of the Game.
For Cleveland, quarterback Shane Austin completed 18 of 41 passes for 201 yards. He threw three touchdowns and had four interceptions. Austin was replaced by quarterback Chris Dieker in the fourth quarter. Dieker completed four of nine passes for 68 yards and two touchdowns. Leading receivers were Thyron Lewis, who caught eight passes for 134 yards and one touchdown, and Dominick Goodman, who caught seven passes for 60 yards and three touchdowns.
The fans in Cleveland can still be proud of what their team accomplished in 2014. They came out of nowhere, after posting a 4-14 record in 2013, to have the best AFL regular season ever this season and they hosted the ArenaBowl. There’s no telling what will happen next year, but Cleveland fans should be ready for anything, including (dare I say it) a possible return trip to the ArenaBowl?
Cleveland Was Rocking
It was a crazy Saturday night in the city of Cleveland. Not only was ArenaBowl XXVII played at Quicken Loans Arena, but at the same time, and right next door, the MLB Cleveland Indians were playing the Houston Astros at Progressive Field. To make things even crazier, just a few miles north, on the shores of Lake Erie, the NFL Cleveland Browns were hosting a preseason game against the St. Louis Rams at FirstEnergy Stadium. Local reports estimated that 100,000 people were expected to attend the three simultaneous sporting events, and they were spot-on. The attendance at the Browns game was 61,663 and the Indians played in front of 20,785. That’s a grand total of 100,858 fans loving their hometown Cleveland teams at the same time.
I’m not sure that there has ever been one night in any city in America that was so engulfed in sports testosterone all at one time. The only winner that night, however, was the Indians, who defeated the Astros 3-2 in 10 innings. The Browns lost to the Rams 33-14.
Head Coach and Assistant Coach of the Year
At the AFL Awards Ceremony Thursday night, Cleveland head coach Steve Thonn was named AFL Coach of the Year and assistant coach Ron Selesky was named Assistant Coach of the Year. The pair led the team to a 17-1 regular season record, the best ever in league history. Thonn and Selesky have been coaching together since 2008 when Thonn was the head coach of the Grand Rapids Rampage. They were also teammates briefly in 1987 as replacement players for the NFL Minnesota Vikings during the players strike.
The 18,401 fans at the game was the fifth highest attendance in ArenaBowl history. ArenaBowl XVII in 2003 was the most attended game at 20,496. That game was played in Tampa between the Rattlers and the Tampa Bay Storm.
The 40-point margin of victory by Arizona this year was also a record for an ArenaBowl.
Looking Ahead to Next Year
At the ArenaBowl Media Day on Friday, AFL Commissioner Jerry Kurz announced the addition of an expansion team for next season. The Las Vegas Outlaws will be owned by Vince Neil, the lead singer of the rock band, Motley Crue. Neil had been a part owner of the league’s Jacksonville Sharks franchise. This season, the Los Angeles KISS took to the field as an expansion team. That team is owned by Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons of the rock band, KISS.
Las Vegas has had two previous AFL teams; The Las Vegas Sting in 1994 and the Las Vegas Gladiators from 2003-2007. The Gladiators then moved to Cleveland in 2008.
The Rattlers have now won three straight ArenaBowl titles. Only one other team in league history has accomplished that; the Detroit Drive, who won titles in 1988, 1989 and 1990. (ArenaBowl II, III and IV)